Spoiler: it’s lack of communication. Read on for an explanation.
It’s a fact of existence for the independent or unemployed creative professional that you may occasionally have to interact with agencies — Creative Circle, The Creative Group, Aquent/Vitamin T, Syndicate Bleu, and so on — to seek freelance opportunities or a job. In concept the agency system is a fine and noble mechanism, and when it works it solves a problem every independent professional encounters regularly: drumming up more work.
It’s great when it works. It’s one of the most frustrating sources of friction in a creative's life when it doesn’t. Which is why it’s a User Experience problem, you see; need to stay on topic here, right?
Having met with a number of agencies over the years, and having been successfully matched up with work through some of them, I get the impression that most agents are well-meaning and motivated to deliver on the promise of the agency system. They’re not bad people, by and large. It’s in their own best interest to get you work; they get paid when you get paid.
Which is why it’s all the more disheartening when they fail to fulfill the second most important aspect of their job: communication. The most valuable thing an agent can do is, of course, find you work. But when that’s taking longer than either of you would like, the other most valuable thing they can do is stay in communication about it.
It’s one thing to understand that you’re probably not going to hear back on a simple resume submission via email. But when an agent reaches out to you, either by email or by phone, regarding a particular job, you have a good chat about it, and when it all looks like it’d be a good fit, they cheerfully agree to submit you, and you walk away from the conversation with renewed hope for the future. Which proceeds to slowly die over the next few weeks as you never hear from them again. This happens enough and you lose confidence in the whole system.
So, agents, please. If there’s a single area I can request foundational improvement in, it’s this. The agency that starts doing this better will stand out like a beacon in the darkness. Communicate more. Give me the bad news. If the job doesn’t go through, please tell me. If they hire from within, let me know. If you never hear back on a job, I would like to know that. Little acknowledgements go a long way. The current general lack of follow-up makes me feel like I’m out here by myself, sending emails into the void, like so many bottled notes that will never be responded to.
And I’m sure I’m not alone in this impression.
ps. To any of my own representatives who might stumble across this post, I don't mean you, of course. You're brilliant and practically perfect at your job. Just to mention.